Three Months with Devon Howard
photos courtesy of Devon Howard
by Ryan A. Smith
In the spring of 2004, Devon Howard abandoned his much-coveted desk job as Editor of Longboard Magazine to ticket, untethered, around the world on an ultimate surfing foray. His formal itinerary for the following three months reflected travel from his Southern Californian home base to such glistening, faraway gems as New Zealand, Australia, and the speckled isles of Indonesia. In Australia, Devon hung at the famed pointbreak at Noosa with Dane Peterson, Belinda Baggs, Alex Knost, and Tom Wegener. Along for a similar ride on the Indo leg of Devon's journey came a curious cadre of "pro" wavesliding enthusiasts like Mike Stewart, David Rastovich, Dan Malloy, Tyler Hatzikian, and Oscar Wright.
The common goal for everyone along the way was to perform (Read: surf) when called upon by Mother Nature (and filmmaker Thomas Campbell) for the then-very-upcoming release of Sprout. To boot, Devon would be in the company of other established lensmen, all unique film shooters, that included Campbell, Scott Soens, and Dustin Humphrey----a real rarity in today surf photog scene. With such opportunity at hand, Devon sunk his teeth in early on, aiming to fill his personal slide files with several thousand images from the opposite end of Earth and to write tons of international articles to accompanying them in gloss.
Fast forward to May 2005, now: While working with Devon on a multitude of freelance endeavors lately, it is clear to me that my old friend is holding an epic batch of photos, virtually untapped, from that southern-hemi sojourn, and that a digitized gallery is warranted, if not outright demanded.
RS: How did you get interested in photography?
DH: In high school I was in a video production class and we produced a short for the school. My friend Mike Jilka and I would film our friends surfing and would make animation bits with an 8mm camera. In college I needed to take an elective course and figured, why not photography? I guess it really all started from there. I was about 21 at the time.
RS: What subject matter interested you at the beginning?
DH: I'd say nature. I had a really small lens, so surfing wasn't really an option. I'd shoot leaves, or my dog. Then some skateboarding, because you didn't need a zoom lens. Then I really got into shooting surfboard details.
RS: What was the first camera you used consistently? How long did that last? What came next? What do you shoot with now?
DH: I had an old late 70s Minolta SRT 101 with a 58mm lens that was super sharp and was nearly a macro lens could do weird, out-of-focus stuff with it. I still have that camera, and it's one of my favorites for cross-process portraits like the one I took of Thomas [Campbell] in this batch.
RS: Are you self-taught with the camera or did you take classes?
DH: Well, I only took one class in college, and learned how to make prints. I was pretty bad then. Then I started paying attention to photography in magazines to get ideas. But I still wasted a lot of money on bad shots.
RS: After your college stint at USD, you started working as an associate editor at Longboard Magazine. How did all that come to fruition?
DH: I was an aspiring pro longboard surfer. Nobody really made any money [longboarding professionally], it was about getting as much travel mileage out of the experience as you could. One day Joel Tudor introduced me to Scott Hulet, the then-Editor of Longboard Magazine. He and I struck off a good relationship and I sort of pestered him for a year or so to take me along on their next editorial trip. He invited me to Fiji and it was there that we talked about me working as an intern. The intern gig later turned into a full-time job two weeks after I graduated. It was a dream scenario. The only way I found to get paid to be a surfer, or at least working in that industry.
RS: Did your learning curve with the camera accelerate much while you were working full-time at mag?
DH: Hell yes. I was all of a sudden in the company of or in contact with the world's best photographers, like Jim Russi, Bill Parr, Jim Pidgeon, Brian Bielmann, etc.
RS: Were there photogs you met while working there that really helped you along technically? If so, who were they and what did you learn from each?
DH: I picked up tips from everyone. But it was Todd Saunders, our photo editor [at LB mag] that taught me most of the technical stuff that I know. He is an amazingly talented photographer, the human tripod. He never has soft images it seems. Maybe he doesn't drink coffee?